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University of Iowa News Release


March 13, 2009

UI Museum of Natural History presents 'Identification Day' March 28

If you have ever wondered what the "curious" fossils or artifacts you have at home really are, the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History can help.

Community members of all ages are invited to bring in natural and cultural items, such as rocks, fossils and artifacts, for the museum's "Cabinet of Curiosities Identification Day" from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 28. The free, public event will take place in Iowa Hall on the first floor of Macbride Hall, located on the UI Pentacrest.

Experts from around campus, including graduate students, staff, and faculty from the UI Department of Geoscience, Paleontology Repository, and Office of the State Archaeologist, will be on hand to help identify visitors' objects.

No appraisals will be provided, but information about the objects and how they should be preserved will be available.

"I'd like to make this a regular event to encourage people to explore their natural world and utilize the collective expertise we have at the university," said Sarah Horgen, museum education and outreach coordinator. "It highlights the important contributions that amateur collectors make to the Museum of Natural History, as well as to our understanding of the natural history of Iowa and the world."

The Identification Day experience holds special value for children, Horgen said, contributing to the museum's mission of helping them connect with nature and history.

"They will be able to learn about the objects they have found and discover they are holding history in their hands," she said.

The event's name, "Cabinet of Curiosities," recalls the museum's past. The museum was established in 1858 when the Iowa General Assembly directed the university to house specimens from the State Natural History and Geological Surveys in a "Cabinet of Natural History," to be located in the Old Capitol building, then the university's only building.

The Cabinet held teaching items from around the state and other parts of the world that were collected by some of the founding professors of the UI's natural sciences programs, including Thomas Macbride, Samuel Calvin and Bohumil Schimek. As its collection grew, the Cabinet moved to Macbride Hall (then the Natural Sciences Building), where it became the Museum of Natural History.

One participating expert, geoscience graduate student and museum education assistant Holly Berg, said she is looking forward to using the event as a way to teach people a little more about important fields like paleontology.

"Paleontologists collect fossils to learn more about evolution and extinction," she said. "By understanding geologic events of the past, we can get a better understanding of what's going on in the world now, like climate change. I think a lot of students and even adults don't realize you can do paleontology as a career, not just a hobby."

The Museum of Natural History's Identification Day will not be the first time Berg has helped identify objects for the public. She said people often bring in items for identification to the Paleontology Repository on campus, where she works as a research assistant. The Repository houses the fifth largest university collection in North America, with more than one million fossil specimens from both local areas and around the world.

Berg said she collected fossils when she was young but never had an opportunity like this Identification Day to interact with professionals.

"When I was a kid, I didn't know the difference between a paleontologist and an archaeologist," she said. "This event is a great way for both kids and adults to see what professionals in these fields do and experience the excitement that comes with identifying an ancient object."

The University of Iowa Museum of Natural History features three permanent galleries exploring natural history and emerging environmental research in Iowa and beyond. For more information visit or call 319-335-0480.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Sarah Horgen, UI Museum of Natural History, 319-335-0606; George McCrory, University News Services, 319-384-0012,; Writer: Claire Lekwa